Wait No More: Solis Winery Plans OK’d

After four years, tasting room and center unanimously approved
by county planning commission
San Jose – The Vanni family’s struggles with county planners over their Solis Winery project has finally ended.

Thursday, the Santa Clara County Planning Commission unanimously approved the family’s plans to build a new tasting room and reception center at the Hecker Pass winery, putting an end to four years of bickering and controversy over the project’s design.

Now the family has to decide if they still want to go ahead with their plans.

“We have to go home and figure out where we’re going to go with is,” David Vanni said Thursday. “Right now we don’t have enough money to do anything.”

The Vanni family saga dates back to March 2001 when it first petitioned the county with plans to tear down their existing 2,500-square-foot building and replace it with a 4,000-square-foot building with larger tasting facilities and a reception area for wine appreciation and corporate events. They also wanted more office space.

Right away, there were problems. Planners informed the Vannis in August 2001 that the property they bought in a foreclosure sale in 1988 was an illegal parcel. It took two years to correct the problem, but the family was able to submit a use permit application. All of the normal inspections were performed. Almost all of them turned up trouble.

The Vannis needed to make major repairs to their septic system. Caltrans demanded that they remove one of the driveways on the property. Fire officials ordered the family to erect a 250,000-gallon water tank, which was eventually negotiated down to a 46,000-gallon tank.

The family spent more than $250,000 in the process, and every time they thought they were finished, county planners ordered more work. Then in August, on the verge of approval from planning commission, the project was hung up on an aesthetic dispute. County planners refused to approve the project unless the design of the new tasting facility was changed to incorporate more horizontal elements to match the squat craftsman style of an historic house on the Vannis’ property.

The house is listed in the county’s inventory of “Historical Heritage Resources,” which means that any changes to the property must conform to a variety of federal standards for historic structures.

At first, the Vannis’ Morgan Hill architect, Charles Weston, refused to alter his design. But by Thursday, he had relented enough to get the planning staff’s support.

Weston’s design is a blend of the region’s historic craftsman style and a stylized haphazard look with thick walls and a tiled roof that recalls the rustic, corrugated shed wineries of Italy. The design echoes the wine making facility on the back of the property, which appears to be two buildings joined together.

In the new design the two-story portion of the building will be set back slightly from the street and topped with a more horizontal roof. A trellis has been added to the front of the building.

“The changes don’t mean anything, but they mean something to planning staff,” Weston said. “They were able to adjust the design and feel better about approving it.”

David Vanni’s wife, Valerie, said the family does intend to move forward, but not until the spring.

“We just need to take a breath,” Valerie Vanni said Thursday. “We feel pretty beat up and we need to go back and re-energize. If you don’t progress in your business, you can’t sustain it. We’re trying to do something exciting for agriculture in the area.”

And the Vannis won’t dust off the model they put in storage after three years so they wouldn’t have to answer customer’s questions about when the new facility was finally going to open.

“It’s Christmas time and I want to put more gift items out,” Valerie Vanni said. “And the design has changed.”


March 2001: Vanni family approaches county about developing Solis Winery on Hecker Pass

Aug. 2001: County planners discover that the property is an illegal lot

Jan. 2002: Vannis meet with planners

Oct. 2002: Vanni family files application for a “medium-scale” winery

Nov. 2002: Application rejected as incomplete

Jan. 2003: Vannis meet with county planners

Nov. 2003: Application expires

Dec. 2003: Lot legality resolved

Feb. 2004: Vannis file new application for “large-scale winery”

March 2004: Application rejected as incomplete

June 2004: Application resubmitted

Aug. 2004: Application rejected as incomplete

Oct. 2004: Vannis appear before the Historical Heritage Commission

Feb. 2005: Application resubmitted

March 2005: Application rejected as incomplete

April 2005: Application resubmitted

May 2005: Application deemed complete

Aug. 2005: Vannis appear before the planning commission; application is delayed 60 days

Oct. 2005: Planning Commission approves plans after minor changes are made to the architectural design

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